Olathe’s Innovation Journey

ARTICLE | Nov 25, 2019
by Ed Foley, City of Olathe

The City of Olathe’s leadership knows the value of having a culture of innovation.  The challenge faced is changing the organizational culture, which takes time to develop and nurture.  The City has worked carefully toward building innovation into our culture in multiple ways over multiple years.

Getting Started

To better understand what it means to build a culture of innovation, the City of Olathe has truly leaned on the expertise of the Alliance for Innovation.  Through sending teams of 10 or more employees year after year to TLG and infusing the energy from that conference, there have been identifiable impacts. It was after a TLG conference, that a group of employees came up with the idea to have an online employee idea submission portal we named the Idea Sandbox.  Seven years later, we still have the Idea Sandbox within our organization.  After another TLG, we were inspired to pursue being part of the Innovation Academy.  The time we spent as part of the Academy, has had far-reaching impact and has even led to the City now doing a pilot test of its own internal innovation academy.

Our organization has invested in the Alliance through being on boards, doing presentations, and participating in and creating webinars.  This allows us to go that extra layer deeper and make those connections or focus our conversations and have the most impactful dialogue with trusted professionals on best practices.

Creating Results

Sending groups year after year to TLG and being active in AFI’s boards and committees truly laid a foundation for us to build upon when we went through the Innovation Academy. This experience put a greater focus and heightened awareness toward the importance of innovation within our organization. 

With the help of the Alliance, the City’s leadership created a definition for innovation after the onsite visit that was part of the Innovation Academy.  That definition for innovation is “The creation and implementation of ideas that improve the way we live and work.”  Since the creation of the definition, we have seen many additional initiatives supporting the continued evolution and growth of our City’s culture of innovation including:

  • Our own internal innovation academy pilot underway
  • The advancement of the Idea Sandbox to offer more employee engagement and dialogue with crowdsourcing around the ideas by linking it to a new city-wide, social communication platform called Work Place.
  • Creation of the Idea Booster program and a team to support idea proposals.  Budget dollars have been allocated to support pilot testing these larger-scale ideas brought to the Idea Booster
  • The creation of an employee innovation award given every year during Public Service Recognition Week.

Lessons Learned

  • Never stop evolving and advancing to develop your culture of innovation.
  • You need to come at it from multiple angles through different programs that involve all levels of staff.
  • Pilot, Pilot, Pilot before you fully launch and invest large amounts of time and budget dollars into a program.
  • The Alliance wants to help – they are a tremendous resource.  You will get out of it so much more than you are required to put into it, but the more you invest the more impact you can reap.
  • It needs to be a priority of your leadership.

Key advice

  • Invest in attending TLG and getting to hear all the great best practices as well as meeting innovative and forward-thinking people.
  • Commit the time and budget to do the Innovation Academy when you have the support of your leadership.
  • Don’t stop when the academy is over, be constantly thinking about ways you can keep the momentum going.

What was it about your organization’s culture, strategy, or key partners that played a key role in the successes?

Ultimately our key to success was that we didn’t just focus on one path, we used multiple routes to advance our desire to build the culture of innovation.  We’re not done.  You can never be done. Moreover, it was critical that we had the backing and ongoing support of AFI to help guide us on this journey.

For more information contact: Ed Foley, EWFoley@OLATHEKS.ORG

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